Did you know that barely half of the students who enter college each year will graduate from any college at any time in their lives? The statistic is numbing when you consider the potential costs involved—your time, your parents’ money, and the lost opportunity to you as a wage earner upon graduation.
In previous postings, I have provided ideas about how to find the college that is best for you—a place that is likely to attract and keep you through graduation. Before we wrap up this discussion, it might make sense to address some of the common pitfalls that lead to unproductive college choices—colleges that do not fit well.
Scenario #1: Love
I hate to break it to you but the best college for you is not the place that your love interest attends! Before you and your significant other get too far along in planning the rest of your lives together, know that the odds of maintaining the relationship over four years of college are not in your favor. In fact, most high school romances break up before the end of the first year of college. Does it make sense, then, for you to commit to four years at somebody else’s college just so you can be together when there is a very good chance that before the end of the first semester she’ll find some other guy—and you’ll end up being a spectator on her campus. Would you call that a good fit?
Scenario #2: Friends
The same logic applies to your friends. While you are ready to graduate from high school, you might not be ready to leave the people with whom you hang out. As a result, the whole gang heads off to college together—in many cases, site unseen. If anybody asks why you chose to attend that college, your response will probably be, “My friends go there.”
Now, how much sense does that make?! One or two of your friends have it figured out. They know the program and have made considered decisions. The rest of you just want to hang out. Now, you are on a campus that is strange to you except for the guys you want to hang with. A good fit?
Scenario #3: Parents
The best school for you is not likely to be the place your parents attended or the place they want you to attend! This can become uncomfortable if your parents are already talking about the places you should attend. While you don’t want to disappoint them, you want to find your own college—a place that is the best fit for you. After all, you are different people. What worked for them might not work for you.
If you sense a conflict of this nature brewing, you need to find a diplomatic solution to it early in your search. The longer you allow your parent’s expectations of a destination to linger prominently in the picture, the harder it will be to extricate yourself from those expectations later in the process—that is, assuming you truly want to look in different directions.
Scenario #4: Sports
The best college for you is not likely to be the place that won the national championship. Everybody likes to be around a winner and there is something to be said for body painting and the crowd frenzy on crisp Saturday afternoons in the fall. Just remember, though, that whatever colors you bleed, you still need to be a student Monday through Friday.
Scenario #5: Prestige
Finally, the best college for you is not necessarily the place that will give you the most impressive car sticker! Consider how the events are likely to unfold. One day in the spring of your senior year, the “thick envelope” from XYZ, a very prestigious college, arrives in your mail. One of your parents is home and finds the letter. Instinctively, s/he rips open the letter to discover the good news and euphoria reigns—“We’re in!!” Before you know it, a car sticker has emerged from safekeeping (held there just in case) and is attached prominently on the family car so everyone can see where “we’re going to college!”
This will be an exciting time for the entire family because, of course, “we” got in. And good for you—if this is truly the place that you want to attend. Unfortunately, a lot of students and their families become more obsessed with winning the prize than finding the best fit. The student may have “won” the car sticker and all the bragging rights that go with it, but does the s/he have the right college? Maybe, maybe not.
Summing It Up
You need to remain reflective throughout the process in order to make sure a school, especially a high profile place, is the right one for you. (Would you buy a good-looking pair of shoes even if they were too snug in the toes?) As you move forward, resist the temptation to act impulsively or run with the herd. You must be able to live with your choice for the next four years and it needs to work for you in the years that follow. Invest in learning more about places that might be right for you—not your love interest or your friends or your parents. Now is the time to focus on you and what constitutes a good fit for you—so yours will be a successful four-year college experience.